When we raised our kids we were sometimes awed by the magnitude of the responsibility. We were expected to teach them how to get along with others, help them with their math homework, assist them with identifying a topic for a school project in history, listen to them when they relayed a major crisis in their day, argued with us about house rules, or confided in us about a fear they had or an uncertainty they were struggling with.
Our journey through the jungle
We didn't get any instruction in how to be the teacher, mentor, listener, cheerleader, and guide. Often, we relied on our partners to get us through.
But one thing we both wish we had done more of is to introduce them to the idea of a purpose. Having a purpose is key to living a successful life. The Healthy Minds Study illustrates the importance of developing a life purpose. In their latest survey of American college students, 33% of those with little or no idea of a major purpose in their life had experienced feelings of depression. Some had suicidal thoughts.
Kids face many challenges in their lives including stress from schoolwork, social pressures, learning to operate a car, dealing with the temptation of drugs and alcohol, financial pressures, and perhaps bullying. Resilience is important in resisting the pressures students can face and having a major purpose builds resilience.
Do you like who your child is becoming?
We've talked with lots of dads who want their child to make the team, join the club, get the award, or collect the recognition. We often tell them, "You are not a coach, a teacher, an agent, or a counselor; you are your child's parent," which can encompass all of these roles and more. We have found in our own lives that what is important is not so much the number of strikeouts, starring roles, trophies in the case, degrees earned or even which college is attended.
As we reflect on our own parenting, we've decided that what is important is "Do you like who your child is becoming?" Is your child becoming a person of character, someone who can be proud of who he or she is, somebody who cares for others and makes a difference in the world?
If we were to do it all again, we would value even more things like kindness, empathy, and responsibility for action to make things a little better. Our own kids have connected with the world around them and become caring citizens who are trying to do that. But we think we could have been a better guide by introducing that quality earlier into their lives.
You have a chance to do that now. A couple of resources could be helpful for instructing teens in purpose and values:
Finally, here are two resources we have discovered that may be helpful for dealing with challenging situations:
Dealing with the threat of suicide:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255
Intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning (LGBTQ) young people